It seems like just a short while ago augmented reality eyewear seemed like a thing of the distant future. There is now a growing market including Magic Leap, Epson, Nreal, ThirdEye, and now Norm. However, of those listed above, Epson and ThirdEye are intended for industry rather than the consumer market. Magic Leap has some entertainment experiences, but the price and size make them more of a tool.
So, where do Norm AR glasses fit in?
Where Did they Come From?
Norm Glasses are produced by Human Capable Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based startup dedicated to helping people with disabilities. The augmented reality eyewear was first developed into a prototype two years ago and has been in development ever since.
“Many years back we were working on an audiophone that blind people can use to interact with the internet and social media. This was around 2014,” said Charles Sun, founder of Human Capable. “Hardware that they can wear, like a Bluetooth headphone with smart technology.”
Because many blind people wear sunglasses, Sun thought that incorporating this technology into sunglasses would be unobtrusive. Around this time, something happened that would have a huge impact on the direction of the project.
“Shortly after that, Google stopped their Google Glass,” said Sun. “We saw this as a step back and wondered if we could incorporate a heads-up display into our glasses.”
Just like that, Norm glasses went from being an audio-only device for a smaller market to being augmented reality eyewear with mass market appeal.
“Before the [mobile] phone was invented, we used to be heads-up and hands-free. Now with the phone we have people with their heads down and their hands occupied,” said Sun. “With our glasses, we want to bring back the old norm.”
The Kickstarter launched yesterday, and Norm glasses should be completely rolled out by the end of the year.
What Are They?
Norm Glasses look like, well, normal glasses. They weigh and fold the same as plastic-frame glasses and come in three different sizes. The frames can even be fitted with prescription lenses, including transition lenses. That puts them in the same league as Nreal. However, the projected price of US$375 makes them over $100 cheaper, according to a document shared with ARPost.
Of course, frame weight and style aren’t the only things that matter. Norm glasses have a 20-degree field of view compared to 52 degrees from Nreal. Sun says that they don’t intend on increasing the field of view because 20 degrees allows for use without being overly distracting.
Norm glasses are also wireless but require a Bluetooth or wifi connection to an Android mobile device. They also work via voice commands rather than a touchpad, like Nreal, and have built-in speakers.
Of course, Norm is more than just an Nreal competitor, just like they’re more than just augmented reality eyewear.
“I tried Nreal. It looks amazing,” said Sun. “The display is great, the field of view is great, but the difference is that they are built for entertainment.”
What Can They Do?
Norm Glasses can do pretty much anything that a good smartphone can do. They can display web pages, browse social media and play music. They also feature “open ear audio.” The system involves small speakers built into the frame. Distance sensors on the outside of the frame adjust the volume so that no one around can hear your media.
The glasses can also take photos and videos, manage texts and emails, and read QR codes. Taking video is the only time when the augmented reality eyewear becomes apparent to others. A small light on the temple of the glasses lets others know when the camera is on.
The glasses are also compatible with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant. One of the augmented reality eyewear’s most powerful functions may be translating audio.
Users can control the glasses through voice interaction, pressure controls, head movements, and through a companion app.
Many of these features can even be used when the glasses aren’t connected to the internet. The glasses have a battery that can power four to five hours of continuous use. However, the battery can last a long as two days if it’s only used for notifications and periodic responses.
There are a lot of things that make Norm glasses stand out from the competition. Working without internet and without being tethered to a hard drive, while still being the weight of standard glasses, is huge.
The fact that they’re only as powerful as your phone, that they don’t work with iOS and the comparatively small field of view are things that could be improved.
Of course, for a relatively affordable augmented reality eyewear that hasn’t even been released yet, Norm Glasses are something to look forward to.